Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going Home

I leave Fort Bragg in a tiny boxcar Honda with passengers Super Dave, his "girlfriend" Theo, and Lilia driving. It’s SD’s 47th birthday and he’s already drunk on bourbon, but wastes ten minutes finding a handmade metal hair pin to give to me. He tells me it’s been used to stab two people, which should come as a comfort to me.

We drive the windy highway out because the other highway (nearly as windy but a bit less) is closed due to flooding. SD’s voice is four times louder than a tolerably loud voice and he keeps repeating that it’s his birthday and everyone lights up a smoke after SD shows Lilia and I his collection of fat joints that smell of weed fresher than anything the east coast will ever know—not that I smoke because I don’t, but I’ve smelled the shit.

The roads wind, switchback and swirl through the redwoods. Oaks, thick with lichen not yet in bloom, litter the roadside. Theo (a friend of Lilia’s) tells me that the Willows have just begun to bud and I see their lime green tips whirl up in a sea of evergreen. It isn’t enough to say this area of the world is beautiful. SD says that the peat covered trees and the redwood forests, the deep cutting valley’s and jutting hills look like a certain cover of the Hobbit, which he’s read nearly forty times. It is magical, breathtaking, unreal, akin to the coastline in Mendocino County—a strange and foreign beauty.

The day before I left I spent an hour out on the bluffs, alone. Walking over the small footpaths of the bluffs, I stood for short moments looking out at the unreal sea. A seal bobbed in the tide, birds lifted from the bluff grasses, the waves roared up against the rocky coast that year after year recedes—perhaps not because of humans, but because of the moon and the tides and the way of the world—the part of the world that goes on understanding its wholeness, unbroken by our human ways. I went out on the wet rocks of Glass Beach, watched a dog wade through a tide-pool, felt the cold wind run off the ocean, salty, stinging. G told me later that she was addicted to this coast, to the bluffs, the wind, the fog that rolls in every afternoon. It puts a part of you to sleep, shuts down the part of me that busies, that worries, that frets and fills with fear. The calm is both a sorrowful emptying of time and the joy of that clean abandon. A speechlessness and a softening that opened in me the small holes where my own unborn dead live.

Mama Sally said that you live with that loss until it becomes a part of you and you grow a garden in the empty space. Loss, for me, has a surreal nature. It is speechless, timeless, and something you cannot process fully in your mind. Loss courses through the body; it is carried and woven into the fabric of your daily being. The process of healing is something one has to figure out how to trust; I had to accept that I didn’t understand how my losses would and did affect me. I couldn’t always write them away, read them away or especially, talk them away—though talking is my primary method of healing.

Being with Claribel and Georgia, being of service to this sweet mother and child, opened in me a love and a longing. It reminded me that all my closest friends live away from me, but it also let me remember how deep the love between my close women friends and I really is. It isn’t a love I can share with my husband or my parents. It is a soulful love that comes from knowing that a force greater than can be explained has put me in this room with this dear friend and her child, has given me this journey of being present at the birth of a child and of watching this mother fall instantly in love with her baby. A child tears you open. It makes you into something you never knew you were capable of being. You never imagined.
                                                 Me and Claribel

Super Dave sobered up a bit and his voice dropped to a more reasonable volume. We talked about his two children, his travels, how he walked to South Dakota last summer to support MS—which his daughter was recently diagnosed with. Lilia—ever maternal—kept us all safe and sound and right on time.

Back in Vermont I slept for five hours. I cried and my husband tried to comfort me, familiar with this part of me that cries every time I return home. I tell him how we must leave, how I must be near my family if we’re to have a child. He tells me I’m in transition mode, brings me orange juice, makes me eggs and toast. Tolerates my concerns about how the plants aren’t watered enough, the rug looks dirty, the apartment is too small and we need a couch. We go to dinner with an old friend and eat rows of delicious sushi.

Now it is Sunday and we’re at Radio Bean coffeehouse. Josh and I sit reading and writing while “Old Time Session” plays old ballads and folk songs—two banjos, a fiddle, a piano player. It’s freezing here. But the sun is out. Spring will come in a month, well, a month and a half for certain. We’ll survive. I’ll put on an extra sweater. I’ll wear my long-underwear. I’ll turn up the heat.

I’ll dream of the sleepy, dreamy, subterranean coast, of little Claribel Lolly’s soft cries, her mama’s smiling face. I’ll think of Georgia’s friend Maureen and her baby Carolyn, and Maureen’s little used bookshop. I’ll think of the birds lifting from the bluffs.

Tom Banjo is singing now, a goofy old tune. There is a little one year old child stumbling around the floor to the music and two grown men squatting down with him, encourage him. Soon he’ll start in singing “One Meat Ball.” Soon we’ll go home, fill the day with reading, waiting for the warmer days. Dreaming of the nether worlds of future-present-past; mending the tiny garden, sewing its tiny seeds. Missing you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Late Night Slogging

It’s late, too late for me to be awake on the Pacific Coast (only because it’s even later on the east coast). I’ve spent too much time online, my eyes glossing over, eating an entire package of graham crackers without noticing, reading blogs. I was reading a strange essay/story/novel excerpt/ memoir on a blog that I had reached through another and another blog in a long river of blog slogging—but in fact isn’t this more lovely an activity than “slogging”—and the thing I was reading made me feel inferior and I thought I must blog something myself, right now, I must say something. The thing I was reading, however, seemed more interesting at the moment and so I stayed there with it after I got the package of crackers, and ate the crackers as I read the thing, finding shortly that the piece was going right into a tunnel of heart-break that I wasn’t entirely ready to enter.

A part of me is numb here on the Pacific Coast, walking at dusk along the tar path that leads finally out to a beach, the dunes, I don’t know where, afraid to unbutton even one inch of me. Reading and reading the fragrant color of the sky; the sky and the sea and their fluid movement impenetrable; my lens captures nothing of it all. I speak foggy sentences to my husband, on the phone, neither of us interested in phone chats. I try to remember to say, are you okay? Mainly, to know that I said it should later on I discover he had not been.

The baby cries and the cry to me is a sweet sound, though it hurts her mother. I watch and watch her. I go online and discover old, sort-of-kind-of friends on FB, I discover someone got married, had a baby, and her birthday is tomorrow. I look at her wedding photos, then the infant, then nothing…life taking place in the empty space of time.

I am numb to something. I am numb to literary websites and blogs and my fellowettes posting on FB about literary blab, to agents and publishers and publishing and stories. I read a thousand different things; they cloud my mind:

Tome for my story…Homebirth…agent…Hag…Pollack…Baby…Wedding…Autumn…Attention.

And trying to recall all the slog, my mind shuts down, blankness and a splendid ache.

The baby is so small. Her head is a tiny cabbage. She dreams and suckles and moves her eyes about the room. G says, baby’s do not like pastel colors, they like bright, bright things. She is not saying this seriously, she is just saying it. At the bookstore I exchange My Antonia for two new story collections: Harold Brodkey’s First Love and Other Sorrows, and Paul Bowles’ A Distant Episode (pic of PB above).

It rains. I walk to the thrift shop. I do the laundry. For a brief moment we sit to eat grilled cheese and tomato soup. The baby suckles. Georgia showers and I bounce Claribel Lolly in my arms, humming away her cries, distracting her. I sing, “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly,” and think how the next time I see her she will be three, four times this size.

I stand in the window of the store that sells bird things. I hear the wind rattle the windows. The air here is wet, cold, sweet, and wet. My heart aches. Really it does. I think of the desert and of Mama Sally and I see a bright orange flower, because of course she is a bright orange flower. I miss Sally. I miss everything already even as I am already missing VT and Josh. I again remember how divided we all are and I think of the ending of My Antonia, how Antonia says that she always has Jim with her and Jim realizes that he carries that part of his childhood with him as well—a type of fate written into our pasts. I think too of the ending of the Anthony Doerr story “Afterlife” in his brilliant collection, Memory Wall. We go away, but our childhoods remain, waiting there for us to come back and dig them up.

I do not like to leave or to come or to go, to be here and not there, but those I love now live in half a dozen places: NYC, Vermont, Minnesota, Montreal, Michigan, Seattle, Hawaii, Minneapolis, Florida, California…

I am being melodramatic, slightly, a little, right?

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly.

It’s way too late to be up, here, online, somewhere, not home and home. Wondering.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Claribel was born on the 18th of March at nine past midnight. We went into the hospital at 2:30 in the afternoon on the 17th—St. Patrick’s Day—and Georgia did an amazing job of delivering her baby. They came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon.

I went out jogging in the early in the evening yesterday; I followed the coastal trail out over the trestle, past a row of small hotels. The sky was a soft pink haze, the fog had come in and the chill was just barely tolerable because I was underdressed. But, the beauty of the coast, the massive waves throwing white foam an unfathomable distance, rolling up and beating down, kept me going. The fog hung over the wooded hills in the distance towards which I ran, and the wet grass of the bluffs had a dark forest green color, splashed with red and gold. I stopped and followed a watery path out over the bluffs. High on a craggy slope of land over the sea, two geese squawked. I stood in the chill and watched the massive waves rush. The sky was a soft flow of color and the cold had a numbness to it, a chill that makes you feel the warmth of your own body, the heave of your lungs as you run hard and fast, as sweat moistens the skin only a little and you press your lips open to breathe in the cool air. I stood on the bluffs looking out over the ocean, looking down along the coast, looking up in the sky where birds skid and dip. I watched a bird flap in the wind without moving forward; it hovered, then dipped, hovered, then dipped.

Into the night little Claribel cried. We drove out in the dark around eleven to get her to sleep, which didn’t really work. Then her mama rocked her and let her suckle—which she’s very good at—until they fell asleep together.

I am still in awe of all of this. How odd that we grow babies in us like that. How amazing to see Claribel squirm out into the world of light. Caught by the two hands of the doctor, she cried. Her umbilical cord was twisty a little like the old phone cords and the doctor took Georgia’s free hand and told her to feel the baby’s heart beat by holding the cord. They waited a bit before her grandma cut her free. I can’t help thinking of a poem from The Book of Nightmares, by Galway Kinnell, called “Under the Maud Moon.”

It is all over,
little one, the flipping
and overleaping, the watery
somersaulting alone in the oneness
under the hill, under
the old, lonely bellybutton
pushing forth again
in remembrance,
the drifting there furled in the dark,
pressing a knee or elbow
along a slippery wall, sculpting
the world with each thrash-the stream
of omphalos blood humming all about you.

Her head
enters the headhold
which starts sucking her forth: being itself
closes down all over her, gives her
into the shuddering
grip of departure, the slow,
agonized clenches making
the last molds of her life in the dark.

The black eye
opens, the pupil
droozed with black hairs
stops, the chakra
on top of the brain throbs a long moment in world light
and she skids out on her face into light,
this peck
of stunned flesh
clotted with celestial cheesiness, glowing with the astral violet
of the underlife. And as they cut

her tie to the darkness
she dies
a moment, turns blue as a coal,
the limbs shaking
as the memories rush out of them. When

they hang her up
by the feet, she sucks
air, screams
her first song – and turns rose,
the slow,
beating, featherless arms
already clutching at the emptiness.

Of course, Kinnell’s somber take on his experience with birth isn’t mine, or I suspect, Georgia’s. Though, he captures the surreal nature of the experience in depicting a sense of sub-worldliness or of crossing-over. I remember now someone saying, “she’ll bring some balance from the other side,” and I think this about babies, about birth, they bring something with them from the other side that we say, with time, dissipates and is all but lost except what lasts in our conceptions of the soul.

Everyone so tired now, particularly her mama; perhaps Sally and I are tired from watching the two of them get tired because we haven’t done much to help. Not that Mama would allow us to, being she is so in love.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Last night I took my phone along for the walk so I could take pictures.

Georgia with her tea...two days overdue.

Little critters waiting for Claribel to arrive.

There are so many little things to do to prepare for the arrival of a new baby. We've adjusted the size of disposable diapers, went to get the "Moses Basket" from Maurine, which is an actual basket with handles and a thin mattress in the bottom where the newborn sleeps, picked up little mittens for her hands, and today we're going to buy more receiving blankets per Sally's request. I like to play with the little toys, squeeze the lamby and the orange aardvark. As a child I lined up all my stuffed animals around me in my bed at night. I remember that I lay really still while falling asleep, not wanting to disturb my animal friends. But, of course by morning they were all over the floor.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Walking by Houses in Spring

Yesterday we went to the Botanical Gardens to walk, between doctor appointments. Sally got an electric cart to drive around which seemed to amuse her to no end, as she drove ahead and turned circles in front of us for our enjoyment. The gardens were at the beginning of spring bloom, luscious and heady. There is a wetness to everything here that makes for good growing but I think also a permanent sense of cold in the bones for some. Sally at least says she doesn’t miss living here beside the Pacific. The beauty of the ocean and the coastline is overwhelming—majestic and heroic. Sally wrote a novel about the area; G told me that at times when she’s walking out on the bluffs she imagines herself the heroine of this book. I feel a similarly, but my heroine is more of the Jane Austin sort.

Dr. Wright tells us that G still isn’t ready—no dilation, closed cervix—and while we all want the baby out we also know that induction at this point isn’t a good idea so we resign to more waiting, more walking, more restless nights for G. Although I think she feels pretty well. Dr. Wright quickly proves to be the best kind of Dr. For one, he wears a button that reads: Listen to Women. But he is also very transparent and explains to us the risks and benefits of G’s options. He seems ready to do whatever G asks as long as it’s safe.

We return home to nap. Later I take a walk through town; the houses here are smaller than the big New England Victorians. Perhaps they also don’t have basements. Unobtrusive, short and cozy, the houses here have a different history, a different way of seeing. Yes, the houses see. I pass a ball park at the middle school where little leaguers are practicing. I watch the parents. All of me, unconsciously, inspects through observation the plight of the parent and child, wondering what it’ll mean to me, how I will experience this. I call my husband and he’s sick with a stomach bug. I tell him I want to go to Maine in June, to the Atlantic. I say, I want a baby. But, I don’t want to go through the loss again. Not a third time. Sally says you don’t get over loss; you plant a garden in the place where loss lives. Loss makes me numb and I think the best solution for me has always been to escape myself for a while and to serve others.

I sleep on a mattress on the floor of the nursery. It’s a small space but there are sliding glass doors that lead out to the rooftop patio. I open them slightly at night. I smell the outside world, earthy wet spring. Reading My Antonia, I think of Little House on the Prairie. I received the entire collection in the mail from my Grandparents for Christmas the year I was in the second or third grade. The early life of people in my country still fascinates me. The stories of horses plodding through snow, of snow tunnels from the house to the barn, of death and loss, and the plight of the farmer dependent on the cooperation of the weather, all make that world come alive for me. I don’t want to live it but I like to enter that world for a little while now and then.

My clothes are hanging on a line across the doorway when G peeks in on me, “I’m glad you’re here,” she says. “Me too.” I go on reading My Antonia until I can no longer fight off sleep and then I click out the light and dive under the sea.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fort Bragg, CA--Sleepy, Dreamy, Subterranean

Georgia’s mama has arrived. Last night we had dinner with her sister Sarah, Sarah’s husband and two children at Captain Flint’s. The two children are the best-behaved children I think I have ever encountered. Flint’s is located on an estuary or stream flowing into the ocean. After fish and chips and excessive amounts of coleslaw, we walked out to beach where Georgia, on a dare, ran for a few feet and we all giggled.

In the evening G and I walk out over the trestle and onto the bluffs along the rugged California coast. The Pacific has a magical aura—incomprehensible and vast—my eyes can’t define its depths, its proximity or strength. I know that locals don’t swim here and that the area usually loses around 5 tourists a year to the sea. It’s rough, cold and yet luscious white where waves crest and roll out long before reaching shore. Spring here and the wildflowers along the bluffs bloom—purple, pink, blue, yellow where we follow windy paths and G tells me that here her mother walked when she was waiting for Georgia, and squatting down to pee, her water broke. I tell G and her mama about the births of my various (five) siblings: once I made a cake with gumdrops, once Hannah and I ran across the yards to climb the stairwell of a tall apartment building so we might spot the hospital where Mom had just given birth to Bess.

We eat cake one day, chocolate the next, followed by two glorious days of apple pie from the local bakery, which her sister bought us. We go out walking and stop at Maurine’s bookstore, a small used bookstore from which G and Maurine once bought their books as young middle school girls. G runs a funky sort of gift shop and Maurine—her childhood friend—just bought the town bookstore. Maurine’s daughter, Caroline, is four months old and was born in November on my birthday. She bounces the baby in her lap or tucks her under her arm, propped up on her hip. We talk about whether or not to get an epidural, unembarrassed to be discussing birthing options in front of customers.

Mama Sally and I sit in G’s big bed watching her organize her bookshelves. Mama whispers, “She’s nesting,” G rolls her eyes at us. Everyone seems to be pressuring her to have the baby, though today is her actual due date. “She’s almost ready,” Mama Sally says to me, “she’s ripe.”

At Maurine’s Bookstore I bought “My Antonia.” G says probably she and Maurine bought their first copies of the book at that very bookstore. I sit in the bay window of the apartment reading Willa Cather for the first time. I think of how I love landscapes, how I need them and am overwhelmed by them. I dream of the sea at night and then of my sister, Hannah. I dream of my husband and the copse of trees we have passed everyday on the bluffs—trees that seem permanently windblown: craggy cedars.
We say again and again how surreal it all is—this baby in her belly. I try to imagine my own belly of baby, but I cannot. All of our days feel dreamy, sleepy, subterranean. People’s conversations at Headlands Coffee Shop become absurd to me. Nothing else really enters my mind with much conviction but the knowledge that we are waiting for a new human to join us.

                                                     Bluffs at Fort Bragg, CA

Thursday, March 10, 2011

WI Bill Passes -- Waiting for Baby in Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg, CA

What’s happening in Wisconsin—once a union friendly state known for excellent public schools—will set a precedent for union busting politics across the country. The bill, which went through the senate last night at 1 am and in the republican run house today, strips public workers of their bargaining rights. Today I watched the Wisconsin House debate the bill before it was passed 53 –42 as protestors chanted “shame, shame, shame”. Impassioned Democratic Representatives referenced MLK, pointing out that he was killed fighting for worker’s rights. While Republicans made the claim that they were following through on campaign promises to make government smaller and balance the state budget in order to not leave their children with the deficit. Wisconsin has amazed me. We’ve watched the people of this state come together in one of the biggest state protests Wisconsin has ever seen; we’ve watched true democracy stand up against big business money and corruption and we’ve watched representatives ignore the wishes of the people they’re beholden to. What will happen next? We can only hope that solidarity will rally and the people will continue to fight for social and economic justice; we can hope that rather than becoming a harbinger of union busting across America, this bill will help to educate Americans on just how important unions are. We need to be aware that the move in Wisconsin is clearly a union-busting move meant to weaken Democrats (because D’s support unions as a general rule, union members, a highly organized workforce both vote democrat and work to support democrats in campaigns).

G and I spent the day lounging. I eventually did vacuum. Then, showered and dressed, we went to the hospital to check out the birthing center. It’s a small hospital and the birthing center was empty. After our little field trip we headed to the coffee shop for cake and decaf. We sat long, since it seems G’s low energy is a bit contagious or I’m still jet lagged. However, we managed to make it out to the bluffs just before sunset where we walked along the steep edge of the Pacific with her luscious waves caving and crashing and rolling white froth. Just as the sun set we returned to the apartment where G is resting and I’m trying to get a bit of writing done. Tonight Mama Sally—along with Sarah and her brood—will arrive.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March Snow, Claribel, More Salmagundi, & Andrew's Amazing Poem

Twenty inches of snow here as of 9am this morning. I’m leaving tomorrow for San Francisco; I will take the bus north two hours to meet G and we’ll drive the two more hours north to her home in Fort Bragg, on the Pacific Coast. Though the snow continues through the morning I feel relief that February has passed and March, a new word, a new sound—snappish and terse—has arrived. We are connected to the weather here, dependent on the agreeability of the day. Today everything shut down. A family on cross-country skis drifted down the street and a man called out to them, “I wish I had the money for skis. I wish I had the money not to go to work today.”

G calls to tell me that the baby in her belly, her daughter already called by name, has dropped and that her belly isn’t round but baby-shaped. It’s hard to move, to sit down, to breathe. She is ready to have her out. I hope Claribel waits for me. I think she will.

Two Things to Check Out:

In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and all the women in our lives, The Salmagundi Series Presents: We’ve Come A Long Way Baby!

Join us for a night of skits, songs, poetry and more as we celebrate women who have carved their own paths in life, and in doing so, opened doors for so many more, this Saturday evening, March 12th at Parima Restaurant

Opening set by Jake Smith and friends from Lakes of Canada

Please contact jen berger at for more information or with questions.

$10 suggested donation

Our friend Kathleen Smith embodied so much of this; mother, social worker, artist, intellectual, gardener, chef, community member, friend. This show is in her honor.

Search Algorithm  a poem by Andrew Nurkin in the online journal, Drunken Boat.

"Originally from Atlanta, Andrew Nurkin currently lives in New Jersey and is pursuing his MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poems have appeared in Peregrine, Palimpsest, Rattle, and Southern Voices. He was rrecently nominated for a Pushcart Prize."

Andrew is also a fellow VCFA student, amazing person, and dear friend. This poem, "Search Algorithm," is perhaps his best poem to date. I anticipate many more to come.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rumi Day 21: from “The Ache and Confusion”

"Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy,

absentminded. Someone sober

will worry about things going badly.

Let the lover be."
Me: Dreaming of spring.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rumi Day 19: Long Absent

Yesterday day I found the roosts of crows. One near a friend's art studio on Pine Street, the other on Clark Street in the trees of the Unitarian Churchyard. Today is the first of March and here in Vermont we await the emergence of spring, anxiously, compulsively wanting winter's release. This happens yearly, not many I know escape the grip of winter, who as Anna P will sing you “always keeps her promise.” It's part of the pattern of our life to complain grow weary of winter as though our growing disdain for snow and cold weather plays a roll in the change of seasons. Somehow I still love the drama of it.
The crows flock around the trees, squawking, crying out to each other. Jen says they're at a rave. I say, so many of us are obsessed with birds. Birds are every where. I just found a former VCFA student and Vermonter's blog titled Wood Bird. I buy paper and cards and photos with birds, a local photographer and artist has spent most of the winter painting crows and ravens, in book covers I find birds mixed up in the image...

There is something ancient and mysterious about birds that allows them to fill the creative imagination with mystery because birds remain unknowable. Last night we talked about all the crows, and Jen reminded me that the crow is a symbol of change, upheaval, death. Death as a symbol is about metaphorical and yet real change: the end of one life for the next. We wondered if the overwhelming presence of crows in the Queen City marks social unrest or creative exuberance. We feel changed by the uprising in both the Middle East and in Wisconsin. We feel outraged by the anti-women bills in congress and the anti-women/racist billboard that went up last week in NYC of all places, we feel a surging sense of renewal. Spring, for us northerners has a downright spiritual hold on our lives. Here we are on the brink, anxious, restless, irritable and discontent...ready for salvation.

Rumi: Poetry

I open and fill with love
and what is not love evaporates.

All the learning in books stays put
on the shelf. Poetry, the dear

words and images of song, comes down
over me like mountain water.

*translated by Coleman Barks